As newly arrived immigrants to the U.S., my parents did a fairly good job of adopting American celebrations, with their own twist of course. At Thanksgiving my dad would prepare turkey with a stuffing of his own creation which varied from year to year. Hard boiled eggs regularly appeared in his stuffing. Turkey would be served yet again on Christmas Eve or, as it’s known throughout Latin America, Noche Buena, the most significant day of the Christmas holiday season for Latinos. Instead of potatoes, black beans and rice were served—as it was served for each and every single meal.
Easter was different in that my parents did not serve a traditional meal—American, Cuban or Ecuadorean. Easter may be the holiest holiday in the Christian faith, but my parents treated it as a minor holiday when I was growing up. The only things I recall doing that were remotely festive were dying eggs, visiting the Easter bunny and participating in the Easter egg hunt at church.
This may be why the question of what to do for Easter has baffled me as an adult. Some years, I’ve done brunch out with my family. Other years, I would have my husband grill a leg of lamb. My favorite Easter may have been the year that we ordered Chinese with our neighbors Jack and Jill (yes, those are their real names) and sat on the front lawn watching our kids play outside. I am not sure why we didn’t attempt to make Easter dinner that year. Both Jack and I like to cook. My son, Keller, once declared Jack to be a better cook than me, but not as good as the chuck wagon cook we encountered one summer at a dinner for tourists in Moab, Utah.
This year I spent Easter with my son at his off-campus apartment cooking Easter dinner for him, his girlfriend and his roommates. When I first floated the idea before him, I was concerned that he would not be open to it, but much to my surprise he not only agreed, he said he wanted to spend time with me and wanted to help select the menu. At his request I made my roasted potatoes with rosemary and garlic, Jack’s Brussels sprouts and a roasted lamb that Keller found the recipe for online.
Like me, Keller is a foodie at heart. His father and I introduced him to fine dining as soon as he could sit up on his own. By the time Keller was two years old, we were able to dine at Equinox on Christmas Eve as a family. We received a ton of compliments on Keller’s behavior from the mostly childless patrons at the restaurant that night. A few years later, Keller sampled my foie gras appetizer at Les Halles and declared it to be one of the best things he ever had. Once, when I was away on business, a five-year-old Keller asked his father to take him to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. Bruce obliged and went to the Taco Bell drive through, much to Keller’s disappointment. Keller had South Austin Grill, a locally acclaimed Tex-Mex restaurant at the time, in mind.
The past few years have been rough for us as a family. Between his father and I separating (twice), graduating from high school and adjusting to living independently at college, Keller has worked hard to assert his independence and prove himself as an adult. And despite some of his ongoing dubious decisions, I am pretty proud of the young man he’s becoming. When I asked him to work with the “Easter Bunny” to pick a place to hide eggs for his sister to do the egg hunt, he and his friends came up with a great location—a park with an oversized wooden playground. He and his friends stood guard over the hidden eggs waiting for his sister and I to arrive. As I was prepping to make dinner, Keller jumped right in to assist with my roasted potatoes and the Brussels sprouts. Like his agui (my father and Keller’s grandfather) he knows his way around the kitchen.
As we sat sprawled around the apartment enjoying Easter dinner, I started to think that this year might be my favorite Easter to date. For one, it marks a new chapter in my relationship with my son as he stands on the cusp of adulthood. I also enjoyed how appreciative his friends were to have a homecooked holiday meal since they were unable to go home and celebrate the holiday with their families. I may not have set holiday traditions for Easter, but it’s probably appropriate to reinvent a holiday yearly that in part celebrates the renewal of life so long as I am with the people that I cherish the most.
Jack’s Brussels Sprouts
Whenever Keller is home from college, he visits with Jack and Jill. He enjoys a special bond with them and their three kids. During one of his last visits I learned from Jack that Keller had stopped by for dinner and had devoured his Brussels sprouts. Surprised since Keller hates Brussels sprouts, I confronted him, to which he succinctly replied, “His Brussels sprouts don’t suck.” Yes, but I wonder what the chuck wagon cook’s taste like.
1-16-oz package of bacon
3 lbs Brussels sprouts, cleaned, trimmed and cut in halves
2 shallots, finely chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
¼ cup Balsamic vinegar
- Cut the bacon into small pieces using kitchen shears or a knife.
- Heat a pan over medium-high heat. Spray the pan with vegetable oil or canola.
- Add the bacon cook for about three minutes.
- Add the shallots to the pan, cook for about six minutes more.
- Add the Brussels sprouts to the pan and cook for about five more minutes, until the sprouts turn a bright green color but are still firm.
- Season with salt, pepper and the balsamic vinegar.